World-first ban on animal smoking, forced swim tests

Laboratory mice will no longer be forced to swim until exhaustion in cruel experiments.

Laboratory mice will no longer be forced to swim until exhaustion in cruel experiments. Photo: AP

Forcing rodents to swim to see how anti-depressants work will be illegal under a world-first ban of cruel science experiments.

Legislation to prohibit such tests, as well as forced smoke inhalation experiments, passed the New South Wales Parliament on Thursday.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recommended against the experiments but a few research groups continued the practice, condemned by animal advocates as “cruel, unscientific and unnecessary”.

Forced swim tests had been used to screen anti-depressant drugs by placing a mouse or rat in a beaker of water and forcing them to swim, offering no escape route.

In theory, a depressed animal will give up and become immobile more quickly than a non‑depressed animal.

“As a former psychologist, I can tell you this is not science,” Animal Justice MP Emma Hurst said when introducing the bill to parliament.

Hurst, the Animal Justice Party’s sole NSW MP, said it was a relief to see NSW lead the way on animal protection.

“There are campaigns around the world to outlaw these experiments, but we are the first to implement these laws globally,” she said on Thursday.

Smoke inhalation tests involve mainly rodents having cigarette smoke pumped up their nostril for at least an hour, twice a day, for up to 18 weeks.

Parliament was told that 91 animals died between 2018 and 2021 after experiments in the smoking tower at the University of Newcastle.

The tower has since been decommissioned, while the NHMRC recognised the animal welfare concerns in December.

The law was also backed by the RSPCA.

Any breaches are punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $3300.

“The forced swim test and forced smoke inhalation have been widely discredited both scientifically and ethically and this ban cannot come soon enough,” Animal Free Science Advocacy spokesperson Rachel Smith said on Thursday.

“This ban will not only relieve animal suffering but progress medical research, with many replacement methods in the fields of respiratory and mental health research based on human and not mice biology available.”

The advocacy group and Hurst called for all other Australian jurisdictions to ban the tests.

Hurst’s bill is the first non-government bill to pass the current NSW parliament and is her fourth since her election in 2019.

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